An editorial appearing in the Denver Post 11-13-2019 by Mayor Wellington Webb
The definition of the word conservation is “prevention of wasteful use of a resource,” and Colorado conservation easements are voluntary, legal agreements that permanently limit uses of land in order to protect its conservation values for future generations. Until June of this year, Colorado conservation easements like the one that preserves the Park Hill Golf Course land open space could be terminated simply with the mutual agreement of the two parties that created them.
In 2017 the Denver city administration and the landowner, Clayton Trust, thought they would be able to terminate the conservation easement between themselves simply with a wink and a nod and city council approval. Had it not been for Arcis Golf, the company that operated the golf course crying foul, termination of that agreement would have flown under the radar, tucked into a measure for a vote by Denver City Council to approve the sale and development of that 155-acre, tree-filled green space.
Then, in July, Westside Investment Partners, Inc., a real estate development company, purchased the Park Hill Golf Course land for a price far in excess of the land’s appraised value, encumbered as the land was with a perpetual conservation easement and “open space-recreation zoning” in place. They speculated that they would be able to terminate the easement and change the open space-recreation zoning easily — but they were wrong.
This year the Colorado General Assembly took action with a dedicated group of conservation-minded nonprofit land trusts — members of the statewide coalition Keep It Colorado — to successfully strengthen the law governing the termination of conservation easements. On June 30, 2019, House Bill 1264 amended the Colorado conservation easement statute. HB 1264 establishes a higher standard for the entire state and puts the true intent of perpetual conservation easements into practice.
The city of Denver is ready to end the legal conflicts that have ensnared a valuable piece of property in the city’s northeast. But a proposed settlement may be just the beginning of a long and contentious political fight over the future of the Park Hill Golf Club.
The property — a rare 155-acre chunk of open space in an urbanizing city — has been through a head-spinning series of legal maneuvers over the last few years. It has been the prize for intense wrangling between its former nonprofit owner, the city government and a for-profit golf company, and the subject of a couple lawsuits.
The developer Westside Investment Partners bought the land this summer for $24 million, but it still was shadowed by legal disputes. On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Hancock’s office announced that a proposed agreement “would end litigation involving the property.”
The settlement will not allow any development on the land. Only a vote of City Council can do that. “We wanted a guarantee that Denver would have a right to provide input about the property’s future,” Hancock said in a news release.
The biggest legal questions include a lawsuit over an ongoing city flood-control project on the land. Early this year, the city took possession of about 35 acres of the course to complete the project. The parent of the former golf course operator, Arcis Golf, sued the city for damaging its business.
The new owner, Westside, took over that lawsuit. City officials wouldn’t say whether the settlement included a payment from the city to Westside, saying that the agreement wasn’t final yet.
Westside Investment Partners, the developer that purchased Park Hill Golf Course in July, has reached a tentative “agreement in principle” with the city that would end a lawsuit regarding Denver’s stormwater detention project on the golf course land. Neither party can disclose the full details of the agreement before it becomes official; however, Mayor Michael Hancock’s office released a statement today, October 1, emphasizing that it does not change the current land restrictions.
Despite the tentative agreement, Westside must navigate a long road before it can develop Park Hill Golf Course, which it purchased for $24 million. All 155 acres are currently subject to a conservation easement that prohibits any change to the land use. The prospect of development faces serious opposition from local advocates, who have argued that the city should uphold the conservation easement, which can only be torn apart by Denver City Council, as a way of preserving the land as open space. However, the easement, established by Wellington Webb’s administration in 1997, requires the land to remain a golf course — a use that, given the flood mitigation work going on now, looks fairly untenable.
That’s what Arcis Golf, the company that leased Park Hill Golf Course from Clayton Early Learning, originally argued when it filed the lawsuit in March, after the city seized 35 acres of the land without Arcis’s consent. Four holes were torn up for the sake of the complex and controversial Platte to Park Hill stormwater detention project, thus damaging the irrigation system and “making the operation of a full, 18-hole golf course impossible,” Arcis alleges in the complaint. The Park Hill Golf Course has since been shuttered.
By newspaper537 / July 31, 2019 / News Greater Park Hill Community Newsletter
It’s Time For Our Elected Officials To Up Their Game
By Brenda Morrison
For the GPHN
Given Denver’s rapid growth and strong economy, it’s both a blessing and curse to be in public leadership.
Unlike other communities, Denver is not facing budget cuts, structural deficits or unfunded pensions. Denver’s residents have been generous, approving bonds and tax increases in order to ensure that the city grows and maintains services, continues to provide parks and open space, and invests in behavioral health.
Yet the city is also facing rising home prices, traffic and congestion, and a rapidly growing homeless population.
These issues are going to demand that all of us raise our game. And that must begin with our elected officials.
Let me make it clear: I am asking our city leaders to embrace their responsibilities. That means both in tough and in good times.
I get it. It’s hard to balance diverse and often demanding constituencies, weighing current needs with those of the future, with your own personal values.
“In a city nearing 700,000 people, it’s never been more important to protect, preserve, and grow our parks and recreational opportunities.” Mayor Michael Hancock, 2017 State of the City Address
If not a golf course, THE PARK HILL GOLF COURSE LAND SHOULD BE A PUBLIC PARK
A LAST OPPORTUNITY: The 155 acres of Park Hill Golf Course (PHGC) land, located on Colorado Blvd. between 35th and 40th Avenues, present one of the last opportunities in Denver to preserve a significant open space and create a large park without massive economic investment. In this increasingly densified city, smart public policy would not sacrifice this unique open space to housing and other development desires that must be strategically met elsewhere.
ZONING & A PERPETUAL CONSERVATION EASEMENT PROTECT THE LAND: The PHGC land is currently zoned OS-B (Open Space-Recreation). Additionally, in 1997 the City of Denver paid the George W. Clayton Trust $2 million for a perpetual open space conservation easement on the land. Therefore, since 1997 the easement has prevented development on the land in perpetuity.
DENVER NEEDS MORE PARKLAND: The 2019 Trust for Public Lands’ park score ranks Denver 29th of the 100 largest U. S. cities in parkland adequacy, down from a ranking of 13th in 2012. Denver ranks well below cities of comparable size, like Washington, D,C., Seattle, Portland and Boston.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS A PARK: Denver Department of Parks and Recreation describes the PHGC neighborhood as “park poor.” The Park Hill Golf Course land has much of the infrastructure, trees, and grass needed for a park, and the site is close to public transportation (RTD’s No. 40 bus and the new A-Line)